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By Natalie Romano

Brothers Brian and John Paul Donaldson are pumped up about their summer vacation.

No, they’re not surfing or golfing or doing anything else you might expect young men to do.

The siblings’ plan; deepen their bond with Christ and each other as they worship with thousands of other Catholics at the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

“I’m so excited for that energy. It’s igniting my heart as I speak,” said Brian, 20. “I’m looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me and my brother.”

The Donaldsons are among the roughly 140 people from the diocese registered for the event that takes place July 17-21 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Additionally, Bishop Alberto Rojas will lead a team of 13 from the Pastoral Center. The historic National Eucharistic Congress, the first in 84 years, includes an opening procession, Masses, Adoration, and renowned Catholic speakers. At least 29 different parishes from the diocese will be represented with the biggest group coming from St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in Alta Loma. The 30-member delegation includes Father Andres Rivera, parochial vicar at the parish, who says the Congress represents an opportunity to get fired up about our faith.

“Not only am I being reaffirmed in my calling, I believe I’m participating in the greater calling of the Holy Spirit to spur this renewal, this excitement, this greater sense of devotion,” said Fr. Rivera. “I think this is a very important moment in our Church.”

The Congress is the culmination of a three-year revival launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to renew and refocus the faithful on the Eucharist as the source and summit of Catholic life. A Pew Research Study released in 2019 revealed that two-thirds of self-identifying Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

That revelation hit hard, says Eucharistic Minister Patty Jimenez. Consequently, she thrust herself into the revival effort at her parish, St. Patrick in Moreno Valley. Now Jimenez is eager to take the next step by going to the Congress with her husband and with Father Octavio Cortez, parish administrator. But just going won’t complete her mission. After the trip, she says she intends to bring lapsed Catholics back into the fold.

“They’re missing out on receiving Jesus and it’s sad,” said Jimenez. “I want to learn how to get people back…. having the Eucharist in you gives you strength, it gives you everything.”

Other attendees want to ignite their relationship with Christ through Adoration. St. Peter and St. Paul Parish Facilities Coordinator David Patin is traveling with his wife, Jacqui, and adult daughter, Emily.
“Even though I was raised Catholic, I never had an attraction to Adoration until recently,” said Patin. “I’m looking forward to learning more about Adoration, how to pray in Adoration and feed my faith.”
Jacqui Patin is a member of the parish book club that is reading “33 Days to Eucharistic Glory” by Matthew Kelly. Patin believes its prayers and stories are spiritually fortifying her for the Congress.

“I feel like that’s really preparing me by making me think more and more about it,” said Jacqui Patin. “As we get closer, we should pray as a family that we’ll be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and through us.”

The National Eucharistic Congress isn’t just for adults or those in ministry. The “Cultivate” track includes lectures on Catholic family life as well as designated “atriums” where youngsters can enjoy hands-on activities that center around the Eucharist. Children who have recently made their First Communion can walk at the front of the opening procession in their white garments.

David and Maria Apodaca of St. Joseph Parish in Upland have reserved a procession space for their daughter, Olivia. They say they hope the experience will help her “fall in love with her faith.”

“Like any 9-year-old, she probably wants to play in the ocean or go to Disneyland, but she could really use this in her life,” said David Apodaca. “I would love for her to see that people are crying, people are joyful and say, ‘I’m so excited, I’m so proud to be Catholic.’ If she got that, it would be worth the thousands of dollars spent.”

The Congress also offers the “Awaken” program designed for young people. Organizers say they aspire to give youth an encounter with Jesus then send them home as “Eucharistic missionaries.”
John Paul Donaldson says he’s ready to step into that role. Soon he’ll start his missionary work for NET Ministries, an organization that encourages young Catholics to deepen their faith.

“I will let [teens] know Jesus is present with them always,” said John Paul, 18. “Even if you go to Adoration and you feel like Jesus isn’t talking to you, he’s always at your side. He doesn’t abandon you, ever.”

Speakers at the Congress will include Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota who has spearheaded the Eucharistic Revival, Father Michael Schmitz, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota and a popular podcaster, Sister Alicia Torres, F.E., Vocations Director who won a nationally televised cooking show then donated the proceeds to the poor, and actor Jonathan Roumie who plays Jesus in the series “The Chosen.”

Father John Gunningham wants to experience it all. The diocesan hospital chaplain says he’s especially looking forward to meeting Catholics from across the country and spending time with the Eucharist, which is so important to the patients to whom he ministers.

“It means the world to them. It brings people some hope, some faith,” explained Fr. Gunningham. “I’m very much in love with the Eucharist and I think the Congress can help me as a priest relate our Catholic identity through the Eucharist.”

Fr. Gunningham plans to pick up some mementos at the Congress, while other attendees are bringing special items with them. Jacqui and Emily Patin will carry their First Communion rosaries and everyone from St. Peter and St. Paul will receive a special gift from the Rosary Makers Ministry.

Others say they haven’t thought about packing yet, but Patty Jimenez is set to go.

“I started packing a couple months ago,” she laughs. “The anticipation is great!”

Bishop Rojas will celebrate a Send Off Mass at St. Peter and St. Paul Church on June 30 at 5 p.m. during which he will offer a special blessing to those from the diocese who are attending the National Eucharistic Congress.

Natalie Romano is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California.